Saturday, 28 March 2015

You Got To Work Hard Times Two : 50 quotes to reinvent your career, Make mornings better & Deep work

'Getting old aint for cissies!'.

The aforementioned quote was attributed to a once-upon-a-time hollywood legend by the name of Bette Davis. If you're under 40 and know who she was, you are an absolute star.

As time marches on, we get older, wiser and ( whisper it) more conventional in our thinking. We start to become more softer around the edges. Even hardened rock'n'rollers ( think Keith Richards..I hope you know who he is), want to take it a little easier with age. Having read his biography a few years back, I was quite surprised to find that he has a sizeable library of books. I'd never have thought that 'the human riff', would be the sort to sit down for a few hours, going through a chapter or three of any sort of literary tome.

In any event, any kind of kickstart to your creative juices at any time of the day, is always a godsend. Especially if your current vocation could do with a revamp or rethink :-

50 Quotes to Inspire You to Reinvent Your Career

Some of these are trully fascinating. Jeff Bezos' quote, for instance, is something I've always held to be an absolute truism. It's a double edged sword, however, because not everyone wants to work in I.T. or be a waiter, or be a pharmacist and so on.

But the world needs qualified people in those fields, too. So if you can't necessarily be the next Degas, or the next Johnny Marr or Vince Clarke, you can still apply that creative streak to something else. I can personally vouch for that via my years as a systems guy in the computing tech field. A lot of engineers I met and shared lunches, pints of beer and the odd ciggarette with, had creative streaks of remarkable merit.

However, most tended to them as hobbies, while some of us were juggling both a career and a 'sideline wanting to become a career', for years on end. That's down to the strength of the passion within a person, as well as a lot of determination, luck, good karma etc. And that's why not everyone can make it in certain fields, because even in those fields, there is probably less than 10% who've had overnight success. So that's 10% of 1%. Think about that for a moment.

In effect, it's not about the fame or the money, although both may appeal slightly. It's about feeling like you have no other choice but to do the thing your doing. This can make your life easier on so many levels. The conflict and dissonance of doing one thing and feeling another, dissipates altogether. Again I can vouch for that, too. You have less 'oh no!' days , and such days that come along tend to be taken more in their stride.

Of course, everyone is wired differently, but blessed are those who can do what they love for a living, and get paid for it. I'm fortunate that I can do that more often than not. It's all a case of 'swings and roundabouts', and your quality of life can be dependant not only on the foresight and vision you have to implement things, but also on your ability to change and take risks. Having fun in the process, should be de rigeur too.

And having fun during the early daylight hours, can make a difference to your working day. But it involves a certain amount of adaptability :-

How To Make Mornings Better, Faster, And More Fun

I get most of my creative work done by midday, so that's 3 to 3.5 hours of solid, head down grafting.  It's not about pondering, but about just 'doing it'. I also delay my mid-morning cup of coffee or tea, as to ensure that I've completed something I started at another point by then, or am at least 80 to 90% there. So the 10% or so left over, feels like knowing you're going to win your own set race, and hence lunch feels like it's well earned and deserved. These aren't hard and fast rules, but I do tend to stick by them with a little bit of flexibility, during the working week.

It's ironic, as I was always sluggish first thing in the morning, but since I got into yoga/meditation, I get up earlier, so I start work earlier and the knock on effects are fantastic. After lunch and onwards is more for interactive group and/or one-on-one stuff, such as meetings and  travelling.

As mentioned earlier, it's in the morning when I'm firing off with a cognitive sharpness, that is greater in intensity than later on in the day. That's because true to form, it's when I can think deeply and with more concentration, whilst getting past any cognitive blocks that start to appear later on in the day. So doing work that matters, is what really counts. :-

Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working (and Here’s What to Do About It )

Any work which involves a level of deep cognitive involvement, relies on previous knowledge and the ability to transcend some of that and find your own answers to problems and present solutions with a level of finesse and credibility. More importantly, it means you have to be able to NOT be distracted so easily by your environment and it's incumbents, wether they be people or technology.

The 'Deep Work' mentioned here, is the equivalent of heading into the archimedes 'eureka moment'. Again, I consider myself blessed at this moment in my life, that I can work for the aforementioned stretches of time that are required to almost subliminally come up with answers and then to use them in order to steam through the work. You then go over the work once away from it, so you come back 'cold' so to speak, and can have some perspective on what you've been doing. This allows you to start modifying ( the 'add & subtract' principle) your efforts with a clearer perspective.

The whole thing is an immensely satisfying process to go through. You've effectively allowed your mind a freer reign to create, implement and execute ( at least in draft or proto form), and then you can come back and start to do the refining and chiselling. Of course, if the 'cold' session reveals that it's a load of nonsense, then you have to be objective enough to junk it. I've done that a number of times, and whilst it can intially be uncomfortable, you get used to the scrapping process, in the context of the journey.

Some of the concepts described in the theory of 'Deep Work' remind me of the work of W. Edwards Demming and his PDCA or PDSA cycle. It's all about continuous improvement and keeping a flow of information recorded with each consecutive step. This then makes it easier to go back and check on each part of the process, in the event of major (or minor) changes.

Documenting any workflow and methodology, even if in your own special brand of 'shorthand', saves hours later on. This knocks onto time and money, not to mention that quicker results and problem solving mean more time spent in  less stressful conditions and situations.

Working harder is essentially not just about putting in the hours and grafting until you drop. That does happen occasionally, but in fairness we should all strive to work SMARTER instead. That is done by adhering to another concept of sorts, called the 6P'S. This was explained to me at length almost two decades ago, by an ex-army seargant, who had moved into his own manufacturing business. The 6 P'S are :-

Proper Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.

The word 'Pretty' was replaced by something more abrasive in the original definition he gave me (ahem), but I digress.

In effect, coming to the task well prepared, wether it means a good night's rest with a rough or 'skeleton' concept ready to go, or even just earlier and fresher and honouring the taks at hand, can mean you've potentially won half the battle. It then makes the rest of the fight to get it all ship-shape and spot-on, less challenging.

You Must Try It So You Know You Can Do It ; Sucking is the first step to being good at something, Outdoing yourself & Creativity myths

Do you always know what you're doing? Neither do I. In fact, there are times when I look back and think 'how on earth did I manage to do that?'. There are also those other times when I think the same, but for slightly different reasons. In effect, it's when I'm not so good at something.

I passed my driving test on the first attempt, which was an achievement and a half amongst my family and  some of my peers. Everything else on the other hand, was something that was (and is) worked upon. It's either 'in situ', so all the work is done live, including the editing, so there's no noticeable break in the process.Or it's a case of starting, letting it sit for a while and then coming back to it later to finish it off.

During all this, there are periods when it just doesn't gel together, and you learn to either get past that or junk the work. Yet being crap at something, is also a work in progress :-

Sucking is the First Step to Being Sorta Good at Something

Alexis Ohanian is the guy who is responsible for Reddit, and also Breadpig. To his credit, he has made it clear here that the '99% perspiration & 1% inspiration' equation isn't just a myth. Furthermore, admitting to being crap at something takes real courage in this hyperconnected age . Especially as we're all now geared to promoting ourselves and our skillset using all the social media tools available, all the time; everyone can now see and hear about your failiure much faster.

But courage is everything when starting something new. Wether it's a job, a new business, even a new relationship, getting out of your comfort zone is part of the process. I'm not sure that this ethos carries over too well as you get older and become encumbered with more responsibilities. Especially when it comes to relationships, which can be taking the venture mindset a bit too far; you're dealing with emotional ties and connections, which aren't something you can just suddenly walk away from without repercussions. Still, the essence of bravery and courage cannot be dismissed when it comes to doing something new and even standing out from the crowd.

In effect, you have to be willing to honour and yield to a level of  productive restlessness to move forward in life. I can imagine that even a lottery winner has that sense of slight discomfort when they collect the winnings, and then have to decide what to do with the money.

It sounds odd, but consider how your life would change if you won a massive amount of money overnight, which you'd never been accustomed to. The internet is filled with examples of large cash prize winners and how their lives have unfolded ( or unfurled) in the years that followed, and it requires a similar skillset and mindset to manage such an event.

Making yourself uncomfortable, can allow you to excel in something. In effect, it allows you the breathing space to push harder :-

Make Yourself Uncomfortable: The Joy of Always Outdoing Yourself

Bradley's career graph is exceptional. Going from flash animation to Tron's complex works has been quite a journey and an achievement. But he took exceptional risks and allowed himself to feel out of his depth. He also allowed himself to fail AND to keep doing his own 'personal stuff' as well. I understand the latter rationale completely.

See, even if what you do is something you love, when it starts to feel like work you need some sort of safety valve to decompress with. So the irony is that you can end up doing a 'for the love of it' concept on the side which is the same type of work as what you do for a living. The beauty there, is that it can be subject to what I call the 3R'S; repurpose, recycle and repeat.

In effect, you can take things from one concept and re-engineer them for something else. Getting those ideas down onto a recallable medium is the most important factor. Then you can always edit and re-jig later.

We all have our own ideas, concepts and even belief systems about how creativity works. There are a lot of myths about the process that many of us have heard and may even hold dearly :-

5 Creativity Myths You Probably Believe

I agree with all of them. Brainstorming in particular, reminds me of many a funny scenario, both intentional and unintentional.When people with a wide variety of experiences and work backgrounds come together to formulate something new, the results can be both devastating and illuminating. It takes a robust sense of self to not take things too personally when strong opinions, ideas and then emotions are bandied about like semi-compatible currencies, in order to create something different.

As the article suggests, letting people work on their ideas and concepts to a level of personal satsifaction in terms of completeness before they come in to the fray for a 'yay or nay' session, helps get past a large part of the process. Because that is the potentially difficult part; getting a bunch of individual personalities with strong levels of self to collaborate, can be a hit and miss affair. Especially where robust egos and heightened emotions can result in all sorts of wheel-spinning jollies and mirth-inducing ( sometimes in hindsight) debates and arguements.

All art is created by external influences. And I mean art in the broader sense, which encompasses everything to do with creating something out of nothing. Wether it's a song, a poem, a painting or even a new business, you're influenced by your history and your present connections, both on a conscious and subconscious level.

Ultimately we are also works of art in ourselves. Remembering to metaphorically refresh and renew our inner brushes, as well as keeping our palettes spacious enough for newer (as well as fresher takes on the familar) paint colourways, is part of our process.

Whatever we do is all a part of our life's craftsmanship and it's a piece of work that carries on both with us, and without us. In the end, it becomes our legacy and takes on another life of it's own, to be shared and cherished with others.

Think about that for a moment, when you're feeling unsure wether you can take the next step in your journey. It makes the difference between leaving behind a mess, or a picturesque mosaic.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Happenings long time ago; windowless working, 15 great pieces of clipart & american malls 25 years ago

At present my main office, which is a room in my house with a lot of sunlight, is clean and relatively tidy. I keep a tidy ship because of an age old belief that clutter in your surroundings has a subliminal effect on your mind, too.

There's a compact disc storage rack in the room, which is currently housing over 800 cd's. That's a leftover from when there was a project based music studio  in the very same room, which I'd built fast because I'd had a lot of work to plough through for music libraries, film/t.v projects and art installation scenarios.

The irony is, that even my main laptop doesn't have a functioning dvd/cd rw drive anymore ( I have a backup which is new, which I'll get around to tailoring for my needs). Fortunately, they still get played on a 'boombox' in the room, as well as in my car's CD autochanger.

As I'm used to the feeling of natural light pouring through the room as I'm working on something, to take that away would have a subliminal, yet ultimately noticeable effect on my vibe. Hence I'm not a fan of winter for the same reason. Although the sub-zero temperatures we get aren't exactly inspiring at the end of the year, it's the shorter hours of daylight we also get, that can make a working day occasionally seem a bit maudlin for my taste :-

Your Windowless Cubicle Is Doing Horrible Things For Your Sleep And Mental Health

Some of these findings are quite an eye opener. It's one thing to feel a little out of kilter without daylight, but another to have it affirmed via other documented side effects. In effect, it also explains why those who work night-shifts more often, tend to be more listless and quite out of kilter, too. Getting some sun in your day, wether working or otherwise, is an essential component to your wellbeing. Even a short walk can solve the lack of need to be exposed to daylight, so if you're out in the winter, wrap up well.

Microsoft have decided to deprive all OFFICE users of something as well. It's something many of us may not have used in a long while and in fact the last time I did use this, was a decade or so ago when I made a 'record of achievement' folder for all my certifications past and present. :-

15 classic pieces of Microsoft Clip Art we'll miss the most

In all honesty, if I hadn't have seen this I wouldn't have remembered the clipart library at all. OFFICE has been connected to the internet for just under a decade ( perhaps longer in beta), so they're clearly executing this manouvre in a timely and calculated manner. However, just like when you notice a spare button sewed into a hidden section of your favourite shirt or polo go missing, I'll feel a sense of loss knowing those '90's flavoured bits of artistic 'insta-paste it in and job done!', are now gone.

The rise of internet shopping has done the same thing to the high streets in the UK. Quite literally, e-commerce has created a real world 'going, going, gone!' situation for many businesses and storefronts. Price competitiveness,  ease of ordering and return, together with the greater choices available en masse, have left a lot of empty shop spaces across the country.

In america, it's a different story. The malls, which are the UK equivalents of our larger shopping parks/centres and 'arcades' ( ironically, these are our take on the american versions), still exist in abundance, but the human footfall through there isn't as exhuberant as the good old days :-

1989 America's malls: The places where nothing — and everything — has changed

In all fairness, some of these pictures make the incumbents look quite forlorn, rather than lively. I've had the pleasure of visiting America and Canada many times in the last fourteen years, so I may have caught the last of the boom period of mall culture. I also saw a lot more 'energy' in the malls, redolent of the classic mall vibe of yesteryears, with lots of teenagers hanging around in groups ( or 'crews') as per the once norm.

What these pictures do capture effectively however, is a slew of other things. For example,  the hairstyles of the period, which were sizeable and laden to combust with all the hair products used. The dress sense, and the notable inclusion of very large, well stocked record shops, which the mp3 revolution has almost singlehandedly obliterated in the last decade alone.

There was also a feeling of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater when I looked at these. More so when I weighed up my own pros and cons on the e-commerce revolution. It's all about the loss of the personal touch when shopping, which has almost disappeared, versus ultra-competitve pricing and reward structures ( discount codes and vouchers, etc) on the internet.

Looking back at your life and the things , people and places that have gone by can bring up a myriad of thoughts and feelings. I'm all for a trip down memory lane, and nostalgia is great for a sentimental dip , but I wouldn't recommend going into it for a swim. 

Yet what hasn't changed so much, is that even now we seem to be on a perpetual cusp of some other great change in the winds of evolution and progress. The rapid pace of technological progression and innovation has spearheaded that sensation, more than anything else.

But with innovation now seeming to be more about improving what has gone before, rather than breaking any newer ground, maybe we're coming into an age of slowing down to smell the roses a little more. Stopping and grinding to a halt clearly isn't an option. Not because the carousel of life is now too fast in our infotainment age. But more because we may now need to rebuild a more organic existance to co-exist with our self made digital world.

After all, we can't survive on artifical daylight and less physical yet increasingly rapid digital contact, all the time. Nothing beats the feel of the soil, the touch of the ground, and the warmth of a hug, each and every time. I'd willingly exchange all my gadgets and gizmos for that, if it became an absolute choice.

But it never will. We're all still far too human, for that to ever happen.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy; 35 Brand name meanings, Playful see saw dining & The cheapest, easiest way to influence people.

I tend not to spend too much time in the kitchen. The reasons for this are that I don't have the natural inclination to cook in the traditional sense. In effect, I tend to 'throw it all together'. If this means some of the food is pre-preapred then so be it. But the fruit I buy isn't pre prepped. Come to think of it, when was the last time you bit into a 'treated' apple? And no, toffee apples aren't included.

Your average kitchen cupboard and pantry (or larder), is a veritable smorgasboard of brand names and idents. The meanings and the rationale behind some of them, aren't always obvious :- 

The Meaning of 35 Brand Names, From Etsy to Reddit

Fascinating stuff. And whilst pondering over this, there's always the issue of where to sit when consuming your gourmet meal :-

Playful See-Saw Table Makes You Work With Your Dining Partner To Stay Seated

I'd probably be tired of this wonderful concept within a day. After all, the last thing I'd want to be doing whilst tucking into my food, would be to retain my equilibrium in the process. But then I don't see any sort of mealtime as a challenge that's to be overcome. Otherwise I'd be looking forward to sitting on the floor in the aftermath, to relax after such an unintentional workout. However, I can see the appeal from an aesthetic point of view. 

Grabbing someone's attention in our 'move fast and keep going' culture, isn't always easy. Everyone sends each other texts, pics, gifs and even small video files. So what can be more effective, in our hyper-connected, digital device laden world? :-

The Cheapest, Easiest Way to Influence People

That's right, a post-it note. Ironic but understandable. Why? Because a post-it note is handwritten, and unless you are on the verge of illegibility, due to years of single digit text and smartphone/phablet/tablet communication, it's always a welcome touch.

I have to add that when I get a compliment slip with a handwritten message, that gives me the same feelgood vibe too. I think it's all about our inner need to feel connected to something real, tangible and human, which is what handwriting is. More so, as we're becoming increasingly  accustomed to seeing everything in a handful of stock fonts on hi resolution, well-lit screens.

There we have it. Not all valuable and useful information has to come in large containers. Considering the aforementioned post-it note scenario, we're all happier to recieve our messages in shorter, more digestible chunks.

On the other hand, there are always times when you should spend longer on conveying information. Letters of gratitude, love, affection and also resignation, for instance, should always have more effort put into them. It reminds the reciever that they are human, and that they matter. It also reminds the sender to spare more thought to the recipient, and in turn to themselves. After all, if you wouldn't want everyone to talk to you in abbreviated text speak, would you?

Or mybe u r in2 that srt f ting?

Somehow I doubt it. May the pen and a piece of paper, always be the last word on this matter. Or indeed the first word.

This blog started life on a piece of A4. I can lay even money that it will end the same way, even if it's me crossing out  ( and amending) a conceptual idea or list on the notepad. There's no undo, and no delete function there. It's also great for archiving.

And now it's time to hit the save button. The irony isn't lost on me.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sweetheart, You're So Cruel; Trashing others is no good, Free time is an art & The seven sins of user research

Many an older and wiser (and occasionally younger) friend and relative has reminded me in the past, that if you point a finger at someone else's failings, you're also pointing three fingers back at yourself. It's not as twee as it sounds, and I think there's a lot of truth in this old adage.

When was the last time you scathingly decimated someone else's work and aesthetic sensibilities? Hopefully it was a long time ago, and better still, you were wise enough to not be cruel by doing this in a public domain, to add fuel to your scornful rhetoric. I'm guilty of the aforementioned, although it used to be done more in a jovial mindset. However, it's not something I'm proud of, and would never resort to that now.

Time and tide change us all, and as I moved away both physically and emotionally from a number of more negative and cynical types of friends, I realised how much we were all effectively feeding our and each others' inner critic. The knock on effects, and a sense of 'just desserts' style justice, can be far worse for the perpetrator :-

How Trashing Others Holds You Back

As already mentioned, we all do it and we've all done it. And  beyond the occassional sarcasm and jocular ribbing, it's unpleasant and shameful. I believe strongly in the concept of cause & effect / karma, and what we mock others for, we tend to either dislike in ourselves or are resentful or even ashamed of having ( or lacking) in our own personalities as well. It becomes a sticky-tar cycle of inner brooding and resentment, which just gets worse. And that's what hold you back.

The article mentions the 'sleaze' factor associated with self-promotion, for example. I used to struggle with that terribly for a long time. However, the rationale associated with that type of self-defeating logic ( there is a fine line between self promotion and self-aggrandisation, but more on that at a later date), is that if you don't promote your own work and achievements to a degree, then unless you're paying someone else to tout your skillset ( i.e. an agency or manager), then who else will do this?

More importantly, in our now ultra connected world, how else are you going to get more work, the new girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/ friends...the list goes on.

In effect, all the time spent trashing others is time wasted on bettering and improving your own lot, so to speak. However, time spent doing nothing and just relaxing or chilling out, isn't time wasted :-

The Lost Art of Free Time

Up until my mid 30's, I used to have a lot of guilt regards free time. I was a workaholic and a worrier per se, and both these feed each other. Fortunately I saw sense and revamped my lifestyle to slow down a tad and recalibrate my life on a professional and personal level. As a result, I'm more calmer, less stressed and work smarter to get results. The yoga/meditation I've been doing daily for the last four years has had a lot to do with that as well. That's why I'd wholeheartedly second a lot of the points made in the article.

In essence, you have to make an effort for yourself, too. If you fit any of the usual 'creative overworker' paradigm tick-boxes (e.g. imbibing too much caffeine as 'fuel', always switched on, fidgety, always needing something to do both at and away from work, always thinking about work, very restless but starting to feel tired more often, etc) , then you owe it to yourself to step back, take stock and have a rethink.

Many years ago, I turned down a lucrative job with a large retailer as their ethos was spelt out in the last hour of the interview day, which in itself was eight hours of roleplaying and tests. One of the interviewers said 'we live to work, around here' and then quickly tried to correct himself, blinking wildly as he did so. That said it all to me, and I knew the hours would be collosal ( they always are in the retail sector), and I declined the offer.

Since then, I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who work in retail, as it is a slog that's harder than a U.K. locum G.P. doing his/her rounds ( that's a medical doctor who also works in hospitals during their working week, for those of you not familiar with the aforementioned description).

All work involves a level of research. Wether you're analysing statistics, or going through a load of user feedback forms ( both analog and digital), there is a need for analysing and assimilating data, to reach a level of conclusive decision making in order to move forward. In effect, research can affirm or even throw up new and surprising data, based on the answers to the question set therein. That's assuming the reserach methods and the data, are relatively free from cognitive biases and skew in the first place :-

The 7 Deadly Sins of User Research

I wrote an article called 'Washing machine' Syndrome , and it now makes absolute sense as to why so many washing machines are still  festooned with more combinations of rinse and spin cycles than the average joe or jenny bloggs will ever use.The above article highlights more biases than I was aware of, and the safest conclusion I can come to, is that the best way to obtain accurate results in the field, is by evaluating the variables during field useage or testing. In other words, set the conditions up, and leave them to it. This can be intiated automatically via computer based monitoring, both with and without the consumers' knowledge, but always with their consent.

I say this as when a person is notified of being monitored, it can create a skew due to their behavioural changes as a result. For example, some people become more agitated under those condtions, and this affects the results. The natural solution to this, would be to extend the testing period, as to give this 'en garde' like state a chance to smooth out or dissipate. For instance, if someone was given a car with a new braking system and told they were being recorded by the onboard computer, they may intially be overly conscious of this for the first day. So to extend the testing period to five days or even a week in order to give the user a chance to ease in to the conditions, would help with the accuracy of the test.

Another thing to note, is that it can also be helpful in the case of interviewing users and consumers, to have a team to evaluate the whole experience of testing, as well. For instance, if the interviewer has any biases or subliminal cognitive scenarios that may affect the end user responses ( e.g. keeps on mentioning without realising after a response, that this is also my favourite colour, thereby disarming the person interviewed from potentially changing their mind) .

In the end, the whole research experience can be a lengthy one and care has to be taken to not fall into various traps and pitfalls, which can lead to wholly inaccurate results. This then reflects onto final stage evaluation and marketing departments, which if significantly out of kilter, can break a new version of a product or service at an early stage.

I always think of how and why great products such as Sony's SACD players and BETAMAX video recorders were market failiures. The short answer is inaccurate research into consumer behaviour was part of the blame; what makes one person tick, may turn another completely off into a spell of boredom and disinterest. There are other strands such as price and market conditions to take account of as well, but these fall into the deeper ethos of user research.

Taking an idea from initial thought or vibe, to it's final tangible state with all the changes along the way, is not for cissies.The level of involvement on a personal level in terms of time, energy and money can be substantial and occasionally takes you far beyond your original construct and plan. Assuming of course, that you had a  clear end point envisaged in the first place.

And it's bearing that in mind, that we should regularly reasses and re-evaluate the 'what, where and why' paradigm, during the process. This gives you a chance to make easier decisions, rather than salvaging haphazard 'last-minute' changes, along the way. This in turn saves you time, money, energy, which can be used elsewhere, as and when required.

In general, being more judicious with our systems and processes, allows us to learn to allow other factors to come into flow and play. That may sound paradoxical, but consider how many times you may have had things work out brilliantly, when you've had the keys to the toystore,when  it comes to making business and/or personal decisions.

A framework within which things can be executed, helps keep you and others on track. And ultimately, this enhances the ability to live a happier , more fruitful and constructive life, for you and others around you.

Monday, 2 March 2015

P.R.B.S. (Partly Read Book Syndrome) - Fear not, for there is a cure.

I have over 400 books. That's over a quarter of a century worth of purchased (or recieved) paper, ink, binding material and lord knows what else, in my possession. And true to form, I still smell a book when I pick it up, wether old or new and wether it's mine or not.

Now unlike mymusic collection, which is even bigger, I've rarely loaned or given my books away. I'm not sure wether that's a reflection of my peer group, or just feeling more attached to my books ( I'm not a psychologist per se, so no idea what deeper meaning that may have, if any) than to other things from my archival 'stock', but I'm straining to remember when I've lost one from the collection. However, I have given new books to people when it felt appropriate, but again, it's been a rare occurrence for whatever reason, compared to other gifts.

In any event, having a large collection of books is something I'm proud of. Not just to show others what I've amassed knowledge-wise over the years, although that's an obvious side effect, but more to remind me on occasion of all the stuff I've learned about and moved onwards with, in my journey of life. One day, I'll get a library-style scenario going, with a bookshelf large enough to accomodate them all, with a view that friends and family can pick one up and 'have a browse', maybe wanting to borrow one for a read-through. For now, it's satisfying to know that they've all been read, finished and put away in the right place(s), and they've all been a source of joy, learning and entertainment.

Until now, that is. Because what's happened in the last few years, is that I've picked up more books on my travels and on recommendations, than I've had time to read.

More importantly, there's become a 'scattered gallery' of partly read books, littered around various locations in my house. In fact, at present there are more than six of them. That's not good, and I've got to do something about this :-

Some of the books caught up in this affliction, yesterday.

P.R.B.S. as I've called it, can be cured. And there's more than one way to cure it. The solutions are :-

a) Schedule a 'finish up' time per book, and work through the 'partly-reads' consecutively. For example, usually, I can finish a book within a month. That's discipline, dilligence and dedication for you.

b) if a) just isn't doable ( the reasons for this alone would make an article, but let's stick with the notion for the sake of making a valid point), then sell it or give it away to someone else.

Better still, ask others in a similar boat (it's not something everyone would readily admit to being afflicted by, so tread gently), if they'd like to swap theirs for yours.

Is b) a surprise? It shouldn't be.

In this age of people ( myself included) doing a lot of info-grabbing on the internet using either a laptop, tablet or their smartphones, when was the last time you recived a book as a gift?

Or more interestingly, when was the last time you gave someone a book? Maybe we're all starting to think it's a bit gauche or old fashioned these days, due to the aforementioned reasons.

That'd be a shame, cause if someone gave me a book, which has happened sporadically over the years, I do cherish them. Even the ones I wouldn't want to immediately pick up and read if specifically looking for new reading materal, I'll have a go at assimilating and give them the 'two chapter test'.

In short, if it can sustain my interest through the first two chapters in any way, I'll hang on to it or just plough through it, stopping to savour chapters with a glass of wine or crisps or..you get the idea.

And it's that aforementioned combination of why reading a book 'the old school way', with the slight whiff of pulped paper, ink and print/binding stuff, whilst having some nibbles or a drink of some sort, still has enormous appeal. I still do it, but my time is eaten up by distractions of a social and/or work related nature. As a result, P.R.B.S is becoming a small epidemic in my house. So, it's either a) or b) for me..and soon.

What about you? If you're a book lover, have you read all the ones in your possession?

If not, then what do you do with the 'partly-read's ' ?

The Crow Cries Uncover The Corn Field ; Automation makes us dumb, 25 smarter websites & 90 degree artwork

I used to be a workaholic. Why? Because deep down I saw myself as a lazy person who didn't necessarily want to work up to 80 hours a week, which is what I saw my parents doing for decades. First it was when they worked for others, and then for over 20 years it was whilst they ran their own business.

Years later, I realised that no one I knew worked those sort of hours, so the 50 to 60 hours I was working for a decade plus, were actually quite excessive. To compensate, I partied when I could, and hard, in order to wind down from the effect of being so 'switched on' all the time.

It's incredible what you can put yourself through when in your 20's. I had a lot on my plate(s), which also included familial responsibilities, as my mother had not one but two brain anyeurisms that burst successively. So for about 5 or so years, she needed a lot of care and attention to get her back on her feet both cognitively and emotionally. That took it's toll in other ways, as you never really think for yourself during the time it takes for your loved one to recover. However, 14 years after her illness, she's made a splendid recovery and enjoys life as a retired lady, with a relaxed and fun filled pace.

My pace of life is also relaxed compared to back then, and I'm grateful for it. But the advance of technology has had a large part to play in that. I no longer have to run around, both physically and metaphorically speaking, as much as I did back then for everything. The internet was just starting to proliferate with content and the speed of access had increased to mb per second , but the concept of artificial intelligence was still something best left to science fiction and films such as THE TERMINATOR. It's remarkable how much times have changed  :-

Automation Makes Us Dumb

It's ironic that we've reached a stage where the level of computing power is starting to render us as a race, obsolete. I can remember there was a real sense of satisfaction when using a slide rule and logarithmic tables, in order to perform calculations. That may well be a dying art nowadays, with smartphones having all sorts of built in calculators and available applications to do the job in seconds.

More importantly, I see that a lot of portable devices tend to be used more for information and entertainment ( or 'INFOTAINMENT', as I like to call it), rather than for actual work. That's understandable due to the ergonomics of the devices. But this is porting over to the larger technology platforms such as laptops and desktops.

We're probably using social networking software as much - if not more- than we're using drawing packages and spreadsheets. The rapid nature of interaction and the potential rollercoaster of emotive responses and calls is rendering us to be more scattered and fried. This in turn makes our attention spans and powers of concentration shorter. This can have unwanted cognitive side effects in the long run.

But the problem talked about here, is more to do with leaving the machines and the technology to do more of what we used to do, which is the decision making part of the process. By integrating that more into the design loop, we can avoid this increased feeling of being a 'remote operator' in our incrementally computer-programmed lives. 

More importantly, computers cannot accurately emulate the myriad of emotions that intertwine with our logic and rationality. This is what gives us our uniqueness and sense of individually. Until we even come close to that level of interactive artificial intelligence, we can still do more or less what we want to do. Computers are ultimately programmable boxes of prompts and commands.

Until we can safely find a way to leave them to do more of our what was once considered de rigeur 'donkey' work, then human beings still have a vital part to play in all decision making processes at every level. I hope it stays that way.

And in case the use of technology is making you noticably more cerebrally flaccid, there are tools available on the internet to get yourself back into mental 'top gear'

25 Websites That Will Make You Smarter

There's plenty to plough through on there. All sorts of bases are covered too, so get cracking whilst you can.

Of course, if you're not so much in a working mood, then the arts can be a great mental salve and soothing too :-

See the artwork that only reveals itself at a 90 degree angle

Kudos to the artist Thomas Medicus, who planned everything beforehand so well. The intricacy and final delivery even when watched on my laptop, is remarkable. It'd be interesting to see what else he comes up with, in the future

Whilst we all need and rely on technology to deliver and assist us with our daily lives to an increasing degree, it's always good to stand back and assess the reasons behind this. Not only will this prevent us from incremental lazyness, but it will also allow us to remind ourselves as to whom is ultimately being served here.

In effect, this  metaphorical future paced landscape of silicon, metal and plastic is something we've created and improved upon over the years. And it was done to serve us and not the other way round.

I like making my own decisions and am fine with suggestions from a program or even a device I use. But I'm less comfortable with the increasing micromanagement that our advancing software and hardware combinations is delivering for us. It takes away from the absolute freedom of choice I can employ when selecting what to do, where and why. It goes beyond a basic 'yes or no' and I don't think machines can ever accurately emulate the emotive and sociological power that humans inherantly possess. It's what makes us compassionate, caring, considerate, moody, quirky and so on. It also makes us angry and a bit volatile on occasion as well.

We are the sum of the parts that make the difference. That is what makes our decision making so unique. Ultimately, we can reboot ourselves (to an extent) and choose a slightly or completely different reboot each time, whilst retaining a complex set of variables known as our characteristics and personality. The permutations can run into the millions. That's something a machine can never do as well or dare I say it, as efficiently. And that's a good thing.

Computers are great at quick answers and logic, but we're better at ameliorating and innovating. We've co-existed successfully for this long, so there's every chance we can carry on in harmony for a very long time indeed. Provided, of course, that we continue to know each others' boundaries and limitations, and don't willingly overstep them.

Remember, all technology is only as fast as it's slowest component. To engineer a machine that is more adept at being human, than a human being, would therefore be impossible.

..or would it?